This Week in the ECAC: Nov. 13, 2003

I admit it; I’m a rink rat. I’ve spent more hours than I can count in hockey rinks all over the Northeast watching practices, NHL, AHL and college games, not to mention kids from 6 to 16 in uniforms of every color imaginable.

Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I’m reminded once again of the unpredictability of sports. Or did it have more to do with the lunar eclipse?

Hmm …

In New Haven, the Yale Bulldogs (1-3-0 overall, 1-1-0 ECAC) finished the weekend with their first win of the season and a first for a rookie netminder whom head coach Tim Taylor calls “too good not to play.”

And play he did.

In their three games leading up to hosting Colgate, the Bulldogs had allowed an unspeakable 24 goals.

Enter Matt Modelski.

The Brighton, Michigan, native made 41 saves in the 3-2 overtime win against the Raiders, including 21 stops combined in the third period and overtime. And while it may be a bit early to declare games “must-wins,” this contest qualified.

It was additional pressure for Modelski, but he was well-equipped to handle it.

“Coach Taylor told me before that every game in college hockey is like a seventh game in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” explained Modelski to USCHO’s Katie Baker.

“In juniors, I played 60 games last year, and at the end we were fighting for home-ice advantage during the last 11 games of the year. We ended up getting home-ice by three points by winning all of those games, many of which were won in overtime or by one goal.”

Well, that explains it. The kid’s an old pro at this. However, what really had us scratching our heads was not how the game ended, but how it began.

Modelski was called for having illegal equipment before the game even started.

“The chinstrap on my helmet hung below the two inches that is allowed by NCAA rules,” said Modelski. “It’s a brand new rule this year, so nobody really knew what to make of it when it was called.”

Ah, but the officials knew and Modelski had to sit out the first 33 seconds of his first college game while getting the strap altered. It wasn’t exactly a dream start, but it didn’t bother the goaltender.

“The ruling didn’t really affect me at all,” he said, “and, if anything, it may have helped get the butterflies out.”

All goalies should be so lucky.

“It was the most exciting game I have ever played in,” Modelski admitted, “and I will never forget it. The win really helped the team out of a hard situation, and I’m just glad I could be part of it.”

Modelski was named ECAC Rookie of the Week for his performance.

The very same night — I’m telling you, there something to this eclipse theory — Yale’s travel partner, the Princeton Tigers (0-4-0, 0-2-0), lost to Cornell, 7-0, as the Big Red’s senior captain, Ryan Vesce, accomplished something else that had us shaking our heads.

Coming off a night in which he posted a goal and an assist against the Elis, the Lloyd Harbor, N.Y., native scored three times and added four helpers against the Tigers.

Simply amazing.

According to Vesce, who had 45 points in 36 games last season and is already up to 11 after just four contests, his seven-point performance was a first for him, and not just at Cornell (2-1-1, 2-0-0). Asked if he’d ever had a night quite like this, at any level, he didn’t have to think very long.

“Nope, never.”

Modest and team-oriented, Vesce quickly changed the focus of the conversation.

“It was nice to get the seven points,” he said, “but the most exciting thing was to get the two wins.”

In fact, Vesce admitted that he had no idea just what kind of numbers he was putting up as the game progressed.

“During the game, you focus on the system you need to play. You don’t really think about how many points you have.”

What he and his teammates were thinking about, however, was a return to form, at least in terms of execution.

“We had a big week of fine-tuning on our system. Anyone who saw the first two games did not see the Cornell of the past. We were more run-and-gun and we made some mistakes.”

There were no mistakes of note against Princeton, thanks in large part to the speedy 5-foot-8 forward’s career-highs in goals, assists and points. His seven-point effort was also the first such game for a Cornell player in 25 years and the first in the NCAA in four years.

For his efforts, Vesce was named ECAC Player of the Week.

Home is Where the Memories Are

Sometimes you can go home again and when Colgate’s (3-2-1, 1-1-0) bus pulls into its hotel in the North Country on Thursday, that’s exactly where interim head coach Stan Moore will be.

A product of Massena, N.Y., Moore will return for games in nearby Canton and Potsdam this weekend at schools and in towns that always bring back a wealth of memories from his childhood.

“Sometimes I chuckle at the fact that, first as an associate coach and now as head coach, I’m standing behind the bench as an opponent,” said Moore, who from 1996-98 made the trip as Union’s head coach.

“We try not to treat this any differently than any other road trip,” he said. “We just hope that we win; that we play well enough to win.”

From an Xs and Os standpoint, the fact that Moore grew up in the middle of hockey-crazed St. Lawrence County has no impact whatsoever on the games.

“It’s business as usual,” he explained.

Off the ice, however, Moore has many familiar faces waiting for him to complete the 168-mile trip from Hamilton, N.Y., to the St. Lawrence campus for Friday night’s game.

“My parents still live in Massena and my brother and sister are up there. I’ll see them after the game and anyone else who stops by.”

Moore’s father, Stan Moore Sr., is a North Country icon. Prior to coaching his son and former Clarkson coach Mark Morris during their school days in Massena, the senior Moore was a standout left wing with the Golden Knights from 1950-53. While there, he scored 109 points on 54 goals and 55 assists in just 42 games.

“I grew up with Clarkson and St. Lawrence hockey,” said the younger Moore, “and those were the two best venues to have.”

He practically grew up on the Clarkson campus until he was four, which is when his family moved to Massena so his father could teach math and coach hockey (and eventually golf as well) at Massena High School.

“I used to sell lemonade and crackers on the Clarkson campus in the summer,” said the younger Moore, “hoping that the faculty that was left would bite and give a young guy the opportunity to make some extra money.

“I’d also eat at the dining halls for 25 cents for lunch. We’d eat near the students and when one of the players would walk by it was easy to eat because your jaw was so far from your upper lip.”

Among the players Moore looked up to as a kid and now remembers fondly were Clarkson’s Steve Warr and St. Lawrence’s Steve Cady, now the Associate Athletic Director at Miami.

“He wasn’t a big guy,” said Moore about Cady, “but he gave everything he had.”

It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

They are a younger squad and, thanks to the departure of key players, the Bulldogs have much to build in a short time. As if that wasn’t tough enough, they’re forced to do it with one of the toughest early schedules in the league.

“Our schedule is very, very difficult,” said Taylor. “We were picked to be in the middle of the pack [in the ECAC] and started off with a road trip against the number one team in the country.”

The journey out to North Dakota was one that Taylor and the rest of the Elis want to forget. Losing by a combined 18-4, Yale was exposed in all ends of the ice. One week later they found themselves facing No. 11 Cornell and Colgate.

“We got waxed in North Dakota,” said Taylor, “then came back and got smacked around against Cornell.”

This weekend, Yale travels to first-place Brown (2-1-0, 2-1-0) and No. 12 Harvard (1-1-1, 1-1-1).

“Brown is a tough competitor,” said Taylor. “We’re certainly not looking past them to the Harvard game, but we know what is waiting for us. We’ll have our hands full.

“The challenge in this league is that you have to prepare to play two teams that are often very different.”

Such is the case this weekend for the Elis.

“With Brown, we’re preparing for their goaltender and defense. They are a better team than last year when they had a good season. They are better with the special teams.

“Harvard is one of the better skating teams in the conference. They are committed to their 2-1-2 forecheck and it is very difficult to get skating room against them.”

It’ll be another tough test for the Bulldogs the following weekend when they start a run of three games in five days (November 21-25) against Dartmouth, Vermont and Princeton.

“The team is still evolving,” said Taylor, “still trying to establish an identity. It’s hard to establish anything if you’re not getting wins. That’s what made the win [over Colgate] extremely important. It showed that if we do things right, compete and work hard, we’re a team that can win.

“If we hadn’t won, we’d be a team full of doubts and anxiety regarding who we are and how we play.”

Tuning In

Despite annual rumors of an impending deal with anyone from the Empire Sports Network to the New England Sports Network, fans of the ECAC continue to be shut out from seeing other clubs and marquee games from around the league.

A handful of schools have the occasional game on a local cable system or statewide public broadcasting station, but other than that, fans who can’t attend games are relegated to Internet radio broadcasts.

The debut of College Sports Television (CSTV) brings new options for fans and, this week, the league announced that Cornell, Harvard and Yale will appear on the new network.

“It’s wonderful that CSTV has made a commitment to college hockey,” said ECAC Commissioner Phil Buttafuoco. “College hockey fans have reinforced that commitment by expressing interest in its coverage. Viewers will watch teams with tremendous history and tradition in college hockey.”

The games include (all times are ET):

  • Cornell vs. Notre Dame (Everblades Classic), December 27, 4 p.m.
  • Everblades Classic Championship Game, December 28, 4 p.m.
  • Cornell at Harvard, January 9, 8 p.m.
  • Harvard at Yale, February 6, 8 p.m.

    The Harvard women will also be featured on CSTV in a rematch of last year’s Frozen Four when the Crimson take on Minnesota-Duluth, December 12, at 8 p.m. Note the new start times for the evening games; a change from the traditional 7 p.m. league start time.

    The network will also air the ECAC Championship Game from Albany, N.Y., on March 20, at 7 p.m.

    CSTV can be seen in approximately 15 million homes nationwide on cable and satellite through Adelphia and Insight systems, as well as DirecTV.

    Friday Night Special

    If the Vermont Catamounts (0-5-2, 0-2-0) get the sense that their surroundings on Friday are a bit dark, they don’t need to check their vision. As part of Rensselaer’s first-ever “Black Friday” festivities, the team will wear special black jerseys during the game against UVM.

    The Engineers are also encouraging their fans to wear black clothing from head-to-toe, with students that wear any black item of clothing receiving a free ticket with their student ID.

    During the first and second periods, all fans will have an opportunity to take part in an auction to purchase the jerseys. Bids will begin at $80. The highest bidder at the start of the third period will be declared the winner and awarded the sweater on the ice immediately after the game.

    Two Minutes For …

    As promised at the start of the season, each week we’d like to give a fan the opportunity to express their thoughts on an issue related to the ECAC. This week, we welcome Ryan Luley. The following is his “Two Minutes For … ” contribution. Readers are encouraged to submit their own thoughts to us at [email protected]. Ryan, the stage is yours, and thanks!

    “I love college hockey, I love the ECAC, and most importantly, I love my alma mater, St. Lawrence University; three significant reasons why I am writing this today. You see, in January at the NCAA Convention, [representatives from] some 400 Division III schools will decide whether St. Lawrence, Clarkson and RPI, among five other schools, should be allowed to offer scholarships for hockey, a sport in which all three ‘play up’ to Division I.

    “The presidents and athletic directors at these institutions have made great points, provided valid statistics and generally have defended their collective cause very well. So, rather than regurgitate those points, I’d like to offer a fan’s view of this issue.

    “St. Lawrence is hockey. Hockey is St. Lawrence. Not every student at St. Lawrence derives pleasure or excitement from the hockey program, but by-and-large the campus comes alive in the winter for the hockey season.

    “Division III might take away St. Lawrence’s scholarships, but [it] can’t take away Appleton Arena, the siren and ‘Here Come the Saints,’ the banners in the rafters, Clarkson vs. SLU and, most importantly, the tradition of Saints hockey.

    “Hockey is part of the St. Lawrence experience whether you throw yourself in amongst it or not. Not long ago, St. Lawrence decided that hockey’s Division I standing was an important part of the University’s history, and that to remain a competitive Division I program, it was necessary to provide scholarships.

    “If this legislation passes, three ECAC schools will lose more than just scholarships. They will lose the ability to compete at a national level, and most importantly, they will lose tradition. St. Lawrence, Clarkson and RPI are three vital pieces of what the ECAC has become. If they are weakened, the league is weakened.

    “If it ain’t broke, PLEASE don’t fix it.”

    In Case You Missed It …

    In other Rensselaer news, the Engineers recently announced the hiring of Andrew Will as interim assistant coach. He began his duties November 5.

    Will, a defenseman at Union, served as an assistant under Kevin Sneddon for four years with the Dutchmen. While in Schenectady, his duties included working with defensemen, video analysis, recruiting and strength and conditioning.

    As a player, Will served as captain in his senior campaign (1996-97). That season he was named to the All-ECAC Second Team All-Star squad and was awarded the league’s Best Defensive Defenseman honors.

    Also reported on USCHO last month was Colgate’s decision to start awarding athletic scholarships. The decision leaves Union and the Ivies as the only schools in the ECAC that do not award hockey scholarships. Of course, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer face much larger issues regarding their scholarships and Division I status for next season.

    The Raiders’ decision was based on making the school more competitive for excellent student-athletes who have, on many occasions, been lost to programs offering scholarships. The University also envisions the more competitive and successful teams that will result as a way to inspire stronger school spirit among faculty, staff and students.

    St. Lawrence was the most recent ECAC school to add scholarships, doing so in 1998 and reaping the rewards with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a regular-season title and back-to-back league championships.

    While it is impossible to guess how soon, or if, the Raiders’ new policy will translate to increased success on the ice, Colgate’s decision certainly adds to the very competitive recruiting environment nationally, and especially in the ECAC.

    What’s On Tap

    Cornell and Colgate travel to the North Country this weekend to battle Clarkson (4-2-2-, 1-1-0) and St. Lawrence (2-6-3, 1-1-0). Nationally-ranked for 32 consecutive weeks, the Big Red have won four in a row and nine of the last 10 against the Knights, their opponents on Friday. Versus the Saints, Cornell is on a 3-0-1 run over the last two seasons.

    Colgate is 4-1-2 over the last seven games against the Saints. The teams tied both of their games last season. St. Lawrence leads Colgate 28-19-1 all-time at Appleton Arena. The Saints lost two of three games against the Raiders in the ECAC playoffs last season, but are on a 5-0-2 run at home against them. Meanwhile, the Saints have lost two straight to Cornell at home after enjoying a 4-0-3 run. Overall, since 1994-95, SLU is 8-6-4 over Cornell, but 0-3-1 in the last four.

    Clarkson is the only ECAC team with an all-time winning record against Cornell (44-41-8) dating back to a 0-0 tie in Ithaca during the 1922-23 season. Against Colgate, the Knights closed out the 1990s with four consecutive losses, but have rebounded to go 7-0-1 since, with three shutouts in the last four games.

    Vermont and Dartmouth (2-0-1, 1-0-1) head on the road against Capital Region partners Rensselaer (3-3-1, 1-1-0) and Union (6-2-1, 1-1-0). The Cats and Engineers split last season’s contests, while Union swept a pair from Vermont. Rensselaer leads the all-time series against UVM, 30-26-7. In the last 10 games, the Engineers are 5-3-2 against the Cats, with a 17-7-5 advantage at home.

    While the Cats have the historical edge over the Dutchmen, 14-9-2, Union has won the last five with UVM’s last win coming January 2001, 6-3, at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Union is 6-3-2 at home against Vermont, including three consecutive victories.

    Finally, this weekend, Princeton and Yale visit Harvard and Brown in an all-Ivy dust-up. Good news for the Tigers as they enter Bright Hockey Center with a 6-3-2 record in their last 11 games in the Crimson’s home rink, including a 2-1 victory last season and an unbeaten streak of four contests.

    Against the Bears, Princeton trails the all-time series 55-70-4, with a 22-40-1 mark in Providence. Brown defeated the Tigers four time last season, including in the ECAC playoffs.

    The Elis travel to Rhode Island on Friday to continue a tradition that began during the 1897-88 campaign. Yale leads all-time 75-64-7. Brown split their regular season games last season, but captured two of three in the postseason.

    Harvard and Yale own a rivalry that dates back to 1899. The Crimson lead the series 128-69-17 all-time and swept both games last season. Harvard has won three of the last four regular season match-ups against the Elis.

    Proof of the Power of the Eclipse

    You can’t make this stuff up. SLU redshirt senior Tony Maci scored his first goals in 49 career games with a pair in the win over Rensselaer. His teammate, redshirt junior Jamie Parker, tallied his first in 36 career contests in the same game.

    And here’s another. When Princeton scored early in the second period on Friday, it marked the Tigers’ first lead this season and snapped a run of 237:22 without a lead that dated back to last season.

    You can just feel the tidal forces at play.

    Thanks to Katie Baker and Ryan Luley for their contributions to this column.